Theories of Education

A sample 'A' grade essay on different thoeries of education

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Critically Evaluate the Functionalist Perspective on Education
Functionalism argues that education promotes a consensual society by maintaining social solidarity
through development of a value consensus, social harmony and cohesion; this perspective is largely
put forward by Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons. The basic approach of this theory is to ask what
functions particular social institutions and processes fulfil in maintaining social order; in the case of
education it fulfils a key functional prerequisite by secondary socialisation.
Functionalists argue that education fulfils this role by three main economic and socialising functions
that are experienced by everyone as there is an equality of opportunity in this system. The socialising
function is met by the cultural transmission of society's core/collective values through the formal
curriculum (i.e. National Curriculum, Religious Studies- the importance of traditional religious values in
life) and the hidden curriculum. The hidden curriculum refers to the way lessons are taught and the
school rules, such as dress codes or obeying the authority figure. Durkheim views schools as a
microcosm of wider adult society, allowing pupils to be prepared for this life through social
reproduction of values. Parsons argues that this is achieved by forming a bridge between the
family's particularistic values/ascribed status of age or gender, and the universalistic values/achieved
status in a meritocratic, industrial society by individual achievements, skills and qualifications.
However, this view ignores the fact that some students will develop ideals that are different to
society that may be in direct contradiction with the value consensus and so resisting the schools'
socialisation process, as shown in protests for gay rights which was previously banned. There is also
contradictory evidence against the view of a meritocratic society; studies by the Sutton Trust (2008)
show that your ascribed status/ class influences the degree of educational success at a significant
level. However the idea of meritocracy is also supported by this as they also found that if a lower
class student made it into ALevels their chances of obtaining a place at university were the same as
students from more affluent backgrounds.
On the subject of wealth and money, one of the economic functions that functionalists believed to be
performed by education was the dissemination of specialised skills and knowledge needed for
contemporary society. In doing so a qualified and literate labour force that can undertake the jobs
arising from the specialised division of labour is created; this system is efficient and ensures that the
second economic function of role allocation can occur as it ensures that individuals are allocated
roles/ occupations according to their abilities and talents. Thus creating a meritocratic hierarchy of
roles where the most qualified are given the jobs requiring the greatest skills and responsibilities.
Davis and Moore (1945) say that this role allocation creates an educational race for success where
there is equality of educational opportunity as everyone who has the ability and puts in the effort has
an equal chance of succeeding; thus legitimising social inequality as you earn your success or failure.
But, in reality, this system is not as harmonious as this perspective suggests. There will always be
competition between the `failures' and the `winners' who want to improve or maintain their achieved
status position, the failures will see the system as unfair and strive to reach the top, as can be seen
through the many revolutions and workers strikes that occur constantly for fairer wages or
opportunities for success. Ball et al (1995) further shows that meritocracy and freedom of choice to
succeed is a myth as many parents with a lower ascribed status are disconnected choosers, these are
people who do no have any experience or skills in regard to their child's education and will choose an
undersubscribed school/ poorly performing school that is close to home. This is in direct comparison

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Thus meritocracy is a myth as one group is materially advantaged to the other.
Functionalism isn't the only theory that suggests education reinforces the value consensus and social
solidarity, Marxists also agree with this basic idea to some extent. But they would argue that the
education system supports the dominant value system of the middle classes and not the values of
society as a whole, thus it is used as a means of ideological legitimisation of social inequalities.…read more



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